Smashing plates, burning dummies in the streets, flinging broken appliances through windows—these might sound like alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve parties, but in other parts of the world, they’re time-honored traditions. Here are 10 fascinating rituals from around the world.
If you thought Santa Claus retired to Cancun—and started surfing to burn off his nearly 336 million cookies—after December 25th, then you forgot about Greece. “Saint Basil the Great gave away all his belongings to the poor. That’s why Greeks believe he’s the Greek Santa Claus,” says Panos Apostolou from SBS Greek. On New Year’s, they set an extra place for him at their tables. They make donations to charities and give money to their children or their youngest relatives. In some parts of Greece, they also hang wild sea onions, with their bulbs wrapped in foil, above their front doors. Because they continue to grow layers and blossom even when they’re uprooted, they’re said to have magical powers and are symbols of rebirth and good luck. On Greek Santa Claus’ feast day, parents wake up their children by tapping them on the head with it.
On New Year’s Eve, Japanese families gather together under a heated blanket and watch Kōhaku Uta Gassen, a special NHK program where popular male and female musicians compete against each other. Then, either for dinner or an evening snack, they slurp year-crossing noodles while wishing for a long life. As midnight nears, Buddhist temples strike their ritual bells with wooden mallets 108 times. “We symbolically beat out our sins from the past year so we can start the New Year off fresh,” says Reverand Toyokazu Hagio from Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin.
Does your toaster pop out charcoal on its first setting? Then you might want to adopt this South African New Year’s Eve tradition: toss your old furniture out the window at the stroke of midnight. Dating back to the colonial era, it represents letting go of past sorrows for a more hopeful future. But in Johannesburg, South Africa, residents stockpile pots, old couches, and microwaves. Then they chuck them from high-rise buildings with reckless abandon.
On December 31st, the Danish have a smashing good time. They round up their broken china and hurl it against their friends’ and families’ doors. (No word on whether they volunteer to clean up the mess after.) A measure of popularity, the piles of broken glass ward off bad spirits and welcome happier vibes in the chaos. The Danish also scramble to the highest viewing points in their living rooms and leap into the new year—literally. “It does help to get any tumbles out of the way, pretty early on in the year,” says Alex Aagaard, a self-proclaimed New Year-ologist from Denmark.
At the stroke of midnight on Nochevieja, the last day of the year, Spaniards eat 12 grapes. Each represents good luck for one month of the coming year. Fleshy, sweet, and pale, almost whitish-green in color, these “lucky grapes” are wrapped in paper bags in early summer and kept covered as they ripen. “They form a peel that’s much finer by not having to fend off … the rain, the sun, or the wind,” says Uva de Mesa Embolsada Vinalopó, a regulatory officer for the Denominación de Origen. “It also makes them quicker to eat. There’s less to swallow.” In Madrid and Barcelona, Spaniards also drop good luck charms like wedding rings or 2 euros into their Cava before the 12 o’clock toast.
In 1995, a family illegally jumped over a cemetery fence to spend New Year’s Eve near their father’s grave. Moved by their selflessness, local officials permanently open cemeteries on December 31st. Since then, families have been encouraged to decorate their loved ones’ graves with Chilean bellflowers, photos, keepsakes, and other souvenirs. While listening to classical music, they share their dead’s favorite foods like chapaleles and arrollado huaso. They also light small fires next to their graves and sleep there until sunrise on January 1st.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, Donald Trump, Spongebob, Pikachu, and Mickey Mouse appear street side. The life-sized mannequins are stuffed with old newspapers or sawdust. On Los Años Viejos, Ecuadorians parade them through the city while men dress as their “widows” and beg for money. In the middle of the night, they set their effigies on fire. This burns away last year’s trials and tribulations and paves the way for nothing but good luck in the coming year. If they jump over the fire twelve times, they also double their happiness and success.
Circles make the world go round. They represent wholeness, the Self, timelessness, and all cyclic movement. On New Year’s Eve, Filipinos place 12 round fruits on their tables, a different one for each month of the coming new year. They also scatter Philippine pisos around the house and stash them in their pockets. This keeps their cash flowing past the stroke of midnight. Hoping to keep Lady Luck by their sides, Filipinos wear polka dot clothing. They also wear red underwear for love, yellow for happiness, or green for money.
It’s no secret that Finland likes to party, but when it comes to New Year’s, it’s less about the glittery mini-dresses and tulle skirts. Instead, it’s more about predicting their future health, wealth, and happiness with molten tin or lead, a practice known as Molybdomancy. Miniature tin horseshoes are melted in a pan and then poured into a bucket of cold water. The resulting lump of hardened metal is rotated in candlelight to create shadows. A fragile or broken shape indicates that misfortune may be around the corner. Ships mean that the person may travel in the new year while keys usually suggest career advancement.
If you’re wondering whether you’ll say, “I do”, in the new year, you might want to book a flight to Belarus. On New Year’s, single women sit in a circle and piles of corn are set in front of them. Then a rooster is let go. Whichever pile of corn he pecks at first determines who’ll get married first. In another game, married women hide items around their single friends’ houses to search for in a “manhunt”. If they find a ring, they’ll tie the knot with a handsome man. If they find bread, they’ll likely marry a rich one.
Did any of these New Year’s traditions surprise you? Do they make you want to visit that country and experience them firsthand? Let us know in the comments!